Seattle Art Museum

The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) in Seattle has been a cultural institution in the Northwestern United States since 1933. With an abundance of works from all over the globe, the collections are too bountiful for just one building. Its locations include the main Seattle Museum of Art, as well as the Asian Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park. Taken together, these spaces house collections of artwork from around the world, bringing global cultures right to the heart of downtown Seattle. In addition to these permanent collections, SAM also hosts temporary exhibitions, as well as events and educational programming. Seattle Art Museum



The origins of the Museum date back to 1931, when the Seattle Fine Arts Society became the Seattle Museum of Art. This was done under the direction of Dr. Richard Fuller and his mother, Margaret MacTavish Fuller, who gave the City a quarter of a million dollars to build the museum. The two had travelled extensively throughout Japan and China in the early years following the turn of the century, and upon the completion of the art deco structure in 1933, donated much of their collection to the institution. Mr. Fuller then became SAM’s first director and maintained this position over the next four decades, never taking a salary during that time. During his tenure, he worked to expand the museum’s collection, including many works by local artists of the Northwest.

Initially opening with a collection of 1,926 pieces, the Seattle Museum of Art has grown and expanded over the years. During this time, the Museum not only housed important works of art, but played a role in the changing art scene, showcasing and supporting many noteworthy artists including Jacob Lawrence and Andy Warhol. In 1991, a new museum space opened in the downtown area, while the original art deco building is refurbished. The original building reopened in 1994 as the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Shortly thereafter, a partnership between the Trust for Public Land and SAM raised $17million in order to purchase a waterfront space to become a public sculpture park. Titled The Olympic Sculpture Park upon opening in 2007, an endowment from Jon and Mary Shirley ensure that this park will remain free to the public through the years. The current collection consists of nearly 25,000 artifacts that inspire and delight more than 750,000 visitors annually. Photo: Seattle Art Museum

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The new main structure of the Seattle Art Museum, located in the heart of the downtown area, houses the bulk of the Institution’s collection. The European collection includes Ancient Mediterranean works, items of decorative arts and design, as well as classics by old masters, from the Renaissance through to the Impressionist period. Noteworthy works include pieces from Peter Paul Rubens, Albrecht Dürer, Henri Matisse, and many more.

Works in the Americas collection include not only a robust collection of items from painters like John Singleton Copley and Winslow Homer, as well as an abundance of items from painters in the Pacific Northwest, but also Native American, Central and South American works dating back thousands of years. These include Mayan, Mexican and Peruvian pieces, among many others.

The Africa Collection spans art from hundreds of years ago to as recently as the past decade, showcasing the juxtaposition of themes which recur through the centuries against the ever-evolving nature of the art. The Museum also has a growing collection of Australian Aboriginal Art from the 1990s and onward. With pieces dating back to the early ninth century, the Islamic collection spans centuries of history of the Islamic world.

Other collections include the Oceanic Collection, with works from Easter Island, New Guinea, and the surrounding areas, as well as Modern and Contemporary Art. Notable artists in this collection include Jackson Pollock, Carl Andre, Jenny Holzer, among many others. In addition to the pieces in the permanent collection, SAM also hosts temporary exhibitions, which change periodically. Such events can include fashion exhibitions, art from specific time periods, or a focus on a specific place or medium. Photo: Seattle Art Museum

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»Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum, now located in what was the original home of the Seattle Art Museum, features a variety of works in different mediums. These include sculpture, textiles, painting, pottery, poetry, and more. Items in this collection are some of the oldest at SAM, with a Banshan-Type Urn from China dating back to 2600-2300 B.C.E. Origins of the works of art can be traced to Japan, China, Korea, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The Asian collection also includes an online catalogue of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, accessible from anywhere in the world, which was made available with support from the Getty Foundation for the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative. One of the highlights of this collection is the famous Deer Scroll, which dates back to the 1600s. This handscroll, with its painting and poem, was cut into pieces in the 1930s; the Asian Art Museum houses one of the largest remaining sections. Photo: Seattle Art Museum

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»Olympic Sculpture Park

Olympic Sculpture Park

Spanning more than eight acres along the Washington coastline, the Olympic Sculpture Park is a public treasure, with free admission all year long. One of the highlights includes Father and Son, a sculpture fountain by Louise Bourgeois. Other works by the same artists in the Park includes several optically interesting eye benches for sitting for viewing pleasure. The Eagle, a bright and brilliant work by Alexander Calder, is a striking landmark of the area. Love & Loss, by Roy McMakin seamlessly blends a time worn message with the functionality of park seating, creating an immersive experience. These are just a few of the dozens of bold and breathtaking works to be found at Olympic Sculpture Park. Photo: Seattle Art Museum

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Conservation is also a key function of the Seattle Art Museum. With pieces in the collection spanning millennia, the conservation team works to create the optimum environments for the preservation of these works. The team responsible includes conservators who manage the conservation treatments, collection care managers who ensure the appropriate display and storage, as well as technicians who execute framing and other projects. In addition, SAM takes great care to research the provenance of works in the collection, to ensure both the authenticity of the work, as well as the appropriate chain of ownership.

Programs and Events

In addition to all that there is to experience through the collections, SAM also provides an abundance of programs and events to engage the community with art. Visitors can participate in SAM Creates workshops, which provide opportunities for artists to describe their processes and ideas, while guests dive into the creative process themselves. The SAM Film Series provides changing film programming from a variety of genres and artists, exploring this visual medium. This visual arts are further represented in the SAM Performs Series.

During these events, performers from a variety of styles and disciplines, from singing to instrumental music to dance perform live for audiences. Other events include the SAM Remix. Held three times per year, each Remix is an entirely different experience, from a silent dance party, to spoken word, to tap dance. SAM Talks, held periodically, discuss pertinent topics relevant to art and society today, providing a forum for discussion as well as education. Seasonal activities include Summer at SAM, which may include outdoor performances, yoga in Olympic Sculpture Park and more, as well as Winter Weekends, which include Art Encounters or Kids Saturday’s in the Park. Photo: Seattle Art Museum

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If the abundance of events and programming were not enough to immerse the community in art education, the educational programs offered by the Seattle Art Museum take it over the top. With programs for kindergarteners through to high school seniors, SAM provides tours, classes and programming that work with educators to bring art into the classroom, or bring the classroom to the museum.

Working at the three different locations, SAM provides a variety of topics for students to explore, which tie in with school curricula to maximize the learning at each visit. In addition, educators can also tap into the Teacher Resource Center, a free lending library in the Asian Art Museum. This resource includes more than 4,000 resources related to SAM’s global collection. The Museum also works with publics school, offering subsidized field trips based on school needs to ensure equal access to art for all. Photo: Seattle Art Museum

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»Plan Your Visit

Plan Your Visit

With three locations, rotating exhibitions, an abundance of events, and nearly 25,000 works of art on display, the Seattle Art Museum is a mecca of art and culture in the Pacific Northwest. The main SAM location and Olympic Sculpture Park are located near downtown Seattle and are easily accessible by car or public transportation. The Asian Art Museum is slightly outside the city center, near Capitol Hill, but still easily reached by freeways.

As events, programs and temporary exhibitions are constantly changing, visitors are advised to review the SAM website prior to arrival in order to best plan their visit. Parking information and directions for each location, as well as fees and hours are all available on the SAM website. Additionally, the Museum strives to make its collections accessible to all, providing wheelchair loans, and Art Beyond Site Tours, for the physically or visually impaired. As visits can last all day due to the abundance to see, do and experience, guests will want to stop by the Museum’s Taste Café for a bite. SAM Shops allow visitors to take home a memento of the Museum, keeping a bit of SAM with them all year long.

Back to: Best Things to Do in Seattle Address: 1300 1st Ave, Seattle, WA 98101, website, Phone: 206-654-3100 Photo: Seattle Art Museum

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Seattle Art Museum